Marvel Studios gave their fans an extra treat for the debut of its first weekly television series, WandaVision: two full episodes! There may be a reason for this decision buried in the plot, or it may just have to do with the first two episodes being in black & white, but it also means getting a better sense of the series as the second episode begins a tonal shift from the premiere.
Of course, that tonal shift seems to be a big part of the story as WandaVision both has a point its trying to get to with Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and honor family sitcoms across the history of television.
Keeping in mind the death of Vision (Paul Bettany) in Avengers: Infinity War, Wanda’s heroics in Avengers: Endgame, and the fact that she will be integral to upcoming film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, let’s dive into what we’ve seen of the series so far and discover what we can about the mystery at its core and how it fits within Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Spoiler Alert: The following reveals details about the first two episodes of WandaVision. Stop reading here if you have not watched the episodes.
Newly married Wanda and Vision arrive in the community of Westview, and settle in. Like wacky sitcoms of the late ’50s and early ’60s, they have secrets they need to keep from their neighbors: Wanda is telekinetic and Vision is a synthoid. Not that those facts stop them from integrating into Westview life. Vision already has a job at a computing firm and Wanda has a dream kitchen. There issues to be addressed, of course.
The remainder of episode one introduces next door neighbor Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) and Vision’s boss, Mr. Hart (Fred Melamed) and his wife (Debra Jo Rupp). The couple questions their own oddities, but generally accept their reality.
Meanwhile, somewhere outside of Westview, the events of the WandaVision pilot are observed.
In episode 2, Wanda and Vision prepare for their magic act in the Westview talent show and their day’s errands. Vision wants to meet with the neighborhood watch while Wanda is off to meet with the local women’s club.
The episode introduces the neighborhood watch — little more than an excuse for the men to gossip — including Herb (David Payton). At the women’s club, Wanda meets Dottie (Emma Caulfield Ford) and Geraldine (Teyonah Parris). After Wanda and Dottie have a heated moment, a nearby radio switches from the Beach Boys’ “Help Me, Rhonda” to a voice directly asking Wanda if he can hear him.
Celebrating their magic show success, the pair return home and, quite suddenly, Wanda is pregnant. Hearing a ruckus, the two Avengers notice a beekeeper (with that sword logo on his uniform) emerging from a manhole cover in the street. Wanda finds this unacceptable and rewinds events to just a few moments before. In the safety of their house, Vision reassures her, and the world turns to color. As their sitcom world closes with “The End” and a “Please stand by” graphic, an urgent voice comes on: “Wanda? Who’s doing this to you, Wanda? Wanda?”
The series is plastered in references to television history. Episode 1 takes many of its cues from shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Love Lucy, and Leave It to Beaver. The most direct comparisons come from Dick Van Dyke with the kitchen looking like a near replica of the one Mary Tyler Moore ruled on that sitcom. The plot of the episode — mistaken communication leading to trouble with Vision’s boss — has the feel of something you might see on any of those shows, even if Vision’s job is purposely vague both to us and himself.
Curiously enough, an attempt was made to use vintage production techniques to give the episode more of an authentic late-1950s feel. It works really well and underscores the moment when Wanda and Vision are confronted by their imprecise memories. Once Mr. Hart starts choking on his dinner, the ’50s lightning, compositions, and editing disappear until Wanda finally tells Vision to help his boss.
It is worth pointing out as that same breaking of sitcom reality is not replicated in episode 2, which takes a very pointed amount of inspiration from Bewitched. The animated credit sequence directly emulates the classic TV sitcom and the set has been realigned to resemble that show’s continuous first-floor locales, particularly the kitchen. Running from 1964 to 1972, Bewitched told the tale of Samantha Stevens, a witch by birth, and her buttoned-down husband Darren. Despite wanting to make it in the world by his own talents, Sam cannot help but use her powers to solve some of their problems. The parallels are obvious, even if the episode’s actual plot feels less like Bewitched and something more tailored to Wanda and Vision’s circumstances, which may be why the humor feels fresher than in the first episode.
Also, since we noticed how well the first episode replicated the feel of 1950s sitcoms, episode 2 does an interesting job replicating the look of Bewitched, which began its life in black & white and was known to use location filming in its early run. The style is evident here, although the film look of Bewitched is not carried over thanks to modern digital videotape cameras and the frame-rate change the new technology brought with it. This is especially true in the location shots, although it could be argued those more modern-looking scenes underscore Wanda real circumstances.
Which brings us to the series’ apparent key mystery: Is all of this Wanda’s doing? Her ability to literally rewind events in episode 2 — and her flat rejection of the beekeeper — suggests she is behind all of this. (Though Marvel comic book readers may recall what the logo stands for, we’ll avoid spoilers and let the series reveal the answer.) But the message on Dottie’s radio also offers the option that someone may be inducing all of this. If the latter is true, what could be the end goal of sticking Wanda in a sitcom reality? The refrain “for the children” offers one unsettling possibility.
Meanwhile, the desperation to fit in, the careful edits of Vision’s persona to make a more stereotypical TV husband, and the way she often runs out of answers stand as credible evidence that, perhaps, she did all of this on a whim to finally process her grief. It almost makes you wonder if the day Vision died is August 23.
That also leads to another interesting question: who are the citizens of Westview? In the first episode, they seem to be part of the illusion. But the personalities of Herb and Dottie in episode 2 suggests Westview is a real place with real people. Are they being co-opted to function in Wanda’s vision or are they also dead people she (or the outside force control this) is reviving to better create this idealized suburban life?
One other option: the townsfolk are the outside putting pressure on Wanda to live this dream life, even if the real facts about her relationship with Vision means he is the grandest illusion of all. OK, maybe it is the baby — that, of course, remains to be seen.
Also, while we’re asking questions, we have to consider the people in the commercials. The none-too-subtle references to Stark and Strucker are funny, but also a clear invasion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into Westview. Are they part of this or just another manifestation of whatever is happening to Wanda?